As long as you don’t make the mistake of going into this game expecting more Dragon Age Origins, you’ll do fine. Whilst it plays more like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, you can still enjoy a Dragon Age themed story and get a workout on your virtual legs.
From the offset, we are thrown straight into the game combating darkspawn with a duo consisting of the biggest female protagonist I’ve seen yet in a game. Your taught the basics of combat and unleash hell on waves of enemies, until we break away from this scene to find our story told by the tale spinning rogue, Varric, a casteless dwarf under questioning from a mysterious, dark woman. For those insecure, it might be best if you don’t stare at Varric’s extremely detailed hairy chest too long.
We repeat the induction again, this time able to choose our human character profile, but restrained from choosing between races. This does make the game more linear than the 6 openings that were available in Origins, but as I usually play as a human in most rpgs, wasn’t fazed by it. We find that our protagonist, Hawke and their family are refugees from the carnage that occurred at Lothering in Origins, being decimated by darkspawn. Flemeth makes a return, impartially rearing her head in the game, but only ever for a few moments at a time. As your family has decided to return to Kirkwall, from where you originated, Flemeth asks you a favour in return for her help to escape.
At arriving at Kirkwall, there’s a small bit about having to decide which impartial guild to join, than skipping an impartial year to return back to see how Hawke has progressed. At which, Hawke wants to regain the family riches by joining a venture into the Deep Roads, which actually does become quite partial to the story, but involves a lot of impartial running around to gain any coin to join the expedition.
Ok, just to clarify on the impartial theme, there will be plenty of times you will be committing many impartial acts that don’t really have much effect on leveling up or the story (as witnessed from having fully completed Inquisition) and that about 60% of this game is spent just running around in circles. The game spans something like 10 years in Kirkwall, in which you as Hawke, experience 3 different time periods in this area, which involves having to re-explore every single nook and cranny for any loot and side quests, resulting in about 20 hours of the 40 hour game just wandering, so make sure to have any podcasts you need to catch up on playing in the background.
Combat has sped up since Origins, with faster and far reaching strikes that do frustratingly seem to miss their target often, constantly requiring you to reposition your character to find a better approach that isn’t hindered by surrounding team mates or uneven ground. On Hard difficulty, it’s only ever the boss battles that require you to take control of all characters, otherwise leaving them to AI tactics during regular encounters is fine. Pausing is still critical to gameplay, being able to keep tabs on the battlefield. I’ve seen gameplay of pro’s not even touching the pause button in an entire playthrough, being able to draw single enemies out of the crowd rather than going all in, but takes far too much time and dithering, something that this game already manages to achieve too much of. A word of warning, playing as a warrior character and choosing certain options in a playthrough will result in having to fight hand-to-hand solo combat with the Qunari Leader. This guy has high defense stats and health depleting swings, which after numerous tries, was the only time in the game I had to reduce the difficulty to even have a chance, but atleast you’re rewarded with a kick ass statue for the effort.
The graphics are mediocre, and with everything set to ultra, it did require for SLI to be activated on the 970s to achieve buttery smooth 60fps. For some reason, there was some shading that was complaining that a single 970 just didn’t have enough cores. Level design is atrocious, with many dungeons constantly reused. I don’t mind assets being reused if the dungeons were randomly generated, but Bioware couldn’t even be bothered to do that and so dumped us with the same dungeon layouts for each of the 40 different side quests. Alongside the fact that we already have to explore Kirkwall and its surrounding areas three times throughout the playthrough, makes this game very boring on the exploration aspect very quickly.
Though this game is missing the feel of the strategic dungeon crawler of Origins, its charm lies in the engaging interaction between the characters. The story that commences whence arriving in Kirkwall and the companions you gain throughout create strong bonds between all, as you complete each companions personal quest and take the time to talk and learn about them. You can speak your mind with companions instead of having to pussyfoot around them, scared that they’ll leave the party, as any negativity goes into them becoming a rival in the team, still offering party benefits. It was interesting to see the development of Isabel from a shipless pirate on the verge of betraying the party at any chance she got to becoming a trusted lover, sympathising for Varric losing the brother whom had killed your sibling and freeing Fenris from his abusive master and past.
The only grouch I had about the companions was Anders, a relic from the Awakenings expansion. In Awakenings, he was a strong witty mage that you didn’t mind having around. In DA2, he’s nothing more than a whimpering killjoy, no longer funny or strong and unbearable in having in a party. He’s somehow been able to cast his Grey Warden status aside, become possessed by the spirit Justice who doesn’t make much of an appearance in either story or combat, and Anders is nothing more than just a pleasure to kill at the end of the game, even if it meant losing a character arc that could have possibly been expanded upon in Inquisition.
As Hawke is now a speaking character, his responses have each been toned with a set impression that allows conversation to be steered how you want it, with me usually choosing the comical choice of silly remarks. Plenty of emphasis has been placed on facial expressions, requiring that you read faces when trying to gain the advantage in conversation. As said before, it does feel more of a Telltale game with action scenes too and far between that only require some well timed button presses. If they had cut out the needless running to the other side of town every five minutes, this game would have taken half the time required, been twice as fun and not received as many critical reviews at the time of release.
Just a quick mention on the teleporting Eluvian mirrors in the game, that originally cropped up in Origins and is thoroughly expanded upon in Inquisition. There is a single mirror in the game, that is actually the mirror related to one of the original starting stories in Origins, which is part of one of your companions personal quests. You do go to the effort of repairing this mirror and even starting a fight with an elven clan over it, yet never actually get to use the mirror in the game which I thought was quite simply a waste.
The ending is the most credible part of the game. One of my reminiscent moments was taking down the optional High Dragon that I managed to do on Hard difficulty in one try, taking over 40 minutes. In regards to the end boss fights, one of the end bosses was ripped straight out of Origins DLC which I wasn’t happy about, considering that in the story it was supposed to be a one-of-a-kind creature, but the fight against the Templar Captain was interesting, as she brought to life the surrounding 10ft statues that creepily staggered into life so realistically, they looked like they had received the best motion capture over any other character in the game.
I didn’t get a chance to play the DLC which actually has an influence in Inquisition, as the DLC can only be purchased via the Origin Store for £16 (which still has to be converted into points to be useable currency), when the base game can be picked up for only a couple of quid. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of DLC costing more than the game at a ratio of 8 to 1.
Overall, if you’re wanting to engage in as much of the Dragon Age lore as possible, than by all means play this game and just pretend your playing a Telltale game, otherwise, if you’re looking for a more action and exploration focus in a game, than you might be better off just skipping this one and going into Inquisition instead. As you have the option to access the Dragon Age Keep that can be used to create a starting world for Inquisition, you have to go through all the options that occurred in both Origins and in DA2, so you can get an idea of what occurred in DA2 just by completing the Keep. Also, you won’t experience the heartbreak that broke me in Inquisition, but more on that later.